Problemas (Blue Corn)
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Oct. 23, 2015
For the past 15 years, Grupo Fantasma has reigned as the king daddy (papi) of Latin rock, culminating in a Grammy win for its last album El Existential. Now it's time to evolve. Teamed with producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and engineers Jim Eno and Brad Bell at the Spoon drummer's local Public Hi-Fi studios – plus including guest spots from prodigal son Adrian Quesada – Austin's border funk orchestra tenders sixth LP Problemas, its first in five years. Infusing international flavor into a traditional core of flammable brass, octopus percussion, and biting guitars, the 10-piece slinks bits of African and Eastern European music into the riffs, while hip-hop, jazz, and psychedelic flavorings gauze the arrangements. Everything gets bent to the band's strengths, with a special emphasis on Cuban motion. The power chord-enhanced "Esa Negra," lush "Cayuco," and soaring "Solo un Sueño" all keep the dance floor roiling. "Otoño" and Beatles cover "Porque" (Because) massage less busy rhythms, aiming squarely for the head and heart rather than hips and feet. For old-school fans, "Mulato" keeps the band's traditional fan base fed by re-igniting the South American ritmo of its 2004 sophomore disc Movimiento Popular. Consider the song and perhaps the album's title track future live set standards. Berlin gives Grupo Fantasma space to work its spell, letting each voice and instrument achieve clarity while still blending into one vision. The only Problemas here rate as first world.